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Submarine drones need to be autonomous, naval experts say

February 10, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — Achieving complete autonomy in future robotic submarines is crucial to the Navy's plans to use drone technology.

This was the message of several speakers at the Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's robotic conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel who said that submarine drones could be useful in a variety of roles in science and national security.

Unlike aerial drones, which are remotely controlled using GPS signals and data links, robotic submarines would not be able to receive satellite commands as they scour the ocean floor. So the machines need to be able to navigate on their own to carry out missions.

Submarine drones would need advanced onboard computers to detect and dodge mountains jutting from the sea bed.

Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research at the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Va., said autonomy would someday have a place on the short list of historic naval achievements.

There are development projects underway around the country. In Southern California, Boeing Co. has been testing an 18-foot bright-yellow submarine drone off the coast of Santa Catalina Island.

Boeing first tested the sub in its 1-million-gallon test pool at its Anaheim facility, which was the birthplace of the guidance systems for the world's first nuclear submarine.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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